From: Karimeh Moukaddem, MONGABAY.COM, More from this Affiliate
Published September 14, 2011 10:57 AM

Famine in Africa: Can Reforestation Improve Food Security?

Millions of people across the Horn of Africa are suffering under a crippling regional drought and tens of thousands have died during the accompanying famine. Refuge camps in Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia are swelling with the hungry.


The best hope in the short-term is food aid and logistical support, but in the longer term, dryland reforestation efforts may help improve food security, argues a new report from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which links human-caused land degradation, including deforestation, to intensified drought.

"There is a mistaken view that because these are dry areas, they are destined to provide little in the way of food and are simply destined to endure frequent famines, but dryland can and do support significant crop and livestock production. In fact, the famine we are seeing today is mainly a product of neglect, not nature," states Dennis Garrity, director general of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF).

Recent research by CGIAR's Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in 25 countries found forests are critical defenses against poverty, providing a quarter of household income for those living in or around them. In particular, agroforestry efforts offer improvements in farm productivity and food security in Africa's drylands.

Forest resources provide fodder and fertilizer for small farms, which benefit by planting trees on site. When planted as windbreaks, trees fortify the soil against erosion while retaining moisture and nutrients, preventing soil degradation. CGAIR notes "fertilizer trees" that release nitrogen into the soil are restoring farmland in Malawi, Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania, Niger, and Burkina Faso. Some native trees also may serve as livestock fodder when grass is unavailable. Reforestation projects in Ethiopia known as Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) and implemented by the World Bank and World Vision are restoring 2,700 hectares of land to provide timber and improve pasture by reducing soil erosion.

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Image credit: Famine Early Warning Systems Network

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